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Hijackers of Libyan Plane Surrender in Malta

  • VOA Staff

Two hijackers of a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 surrender to Maltese military on the runway at Malta Airport, Dec. 23, 2016.

The two hijackers aboard a Libyan plane surrendered to police Friday after rerouting the jet to the island of Malta and releasing all hostages on board, said Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat.

In a series of tweets, Muscat said the hijackers released the last remaining crew members before being taken into custody.

The hijackers had previously released two waves of hostages, beginning with the women and children on board the plane.

Police said they found a grenade and two handguns on the plane, though Muscat tweeted later saying the weapons were replicas, based on an initial forensic investigation.

Muscat addressed reporters after the incident ended, saying the hijackers were in custody and interrogations were ongoing.

“The rest of the crew and passengers are also being questioned to ascertain events,” he said. “Once this interrogation process is completed over the next few hours, arrangements will be made to send the passengers and the crew members back to Libya with another Afriqiyah aircraft.” Afriqiyah Airways is the state-owned airline in Libya.

He also said that Maltese authorities were very clear in telling the hijackers that authorities were “not willing to negotiate” unless the two surrendered.

“Until now they have made no demands, obviously they are not now in a position to make any demands, but we were very clear that we were not negotiating.”

The hijackers released 109 of the 118 people on board shortly after the plane landed and emergency teams had been dispatched to the airport tarmac. Within a few hours, the remaining hostages were released and police arrested the hijackers.

Initially, the hijackers ordered the pilot to fly to Rome, but they settled on Malta after they were informed the plane didn't have enough fuel to reach the central Italian city.

Libya’s foreign minister, Taher Siala, said the hijackers are loyalists to the country’s slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi and have asked for political asylum in Malta, although Muscat later contradicted the asylum comment.

The foreign minister also said the hijackers wanted to set up a pro-Gadhafi political party.

All flights into the Malta International Airport had initially been canceled, but airport officials said Friday evening that operations were returning to normal. Officials said they expected the flight schedule to be fully back to normal by the end of the day.

A total of 44 flights were affected by the tarmac standoff.

The Afriqiyah Airways plane was slated to fly from southwestern Sabha to Tripoli before being diverted to Malta.

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